It’s a far cry from a decade ago when the majors were teeming with slugging shortstops. Only three players at the position have more than three homers this season: Troy Tulowitzki (that’s the easy one), Asdrubal Cabrera and Alex Gonzalez.
Derek Jeter’s halfway there after hitting his first two home runs of the season Sunday. Struggling Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez, Cubs 21-
year-old sensation Starlin Castro and fading Giants ex-shortstop Miguel Tejada have one apiece.
Clearly, the turn of the century was the golden age of shortstops. Take 2000 as an example. The Red Sox’ Nomar Garciaparra won a batting title as he hit .372 with a .434 on-base percentage and .599 slugging percentage. He was ninth in the MVP voting. The Mariners’ Alex Rodriguez (.316/.420/.606 with 41 home runs before hitting 52, 57 and 47 with the Rangers) was third in the balloting. The Yankees’ Jeter (.339/.416/.481) was 10th and the A’s Tejada (.275/.349/.479 with 30 homers) was 16th. Tejada didn’t even make the All-Star Game (but Mike Bordick did).
The post-Mitchell Report decrease in offense has something to do with the lack of power from what had been a position traditionally used for defense. As more teams focus on Ultimate Zone Rating, having a solid defender at the position is all the more important. Still, a little pop wouldn’t hurt.
The Angels’ Erick Aybar (.356/.374/.460) is having a nice season (with no homers), but he’s an exception.
The best hope for the future may be in the Orioles organization. The franchise that produced 6-foot-4 Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken has the top-rated shortstop prospect in the game. Manny Machado, 18, was the third overall pick in the 2010 draft. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound talent from Hialeah, Fla., is off to a .333/.450/.611 start with five homers in 90 at-bats at low-Class A Delmarva.
It’s a shame Machado and Bryce Harper, the top pick last year, won’t square off in Hagerstown this week because Machado’s on the seven-day disabled list with a left knee injury.
If Machado can stay healthy, stay at shortstop and successfully make the climb to the major leagues, he could help breathe offensive life back into the position. As for now, aside from the strong-armed and sweet-swinging Tulowitzki, the job description of a shortstop is back to what it was in the pre-Ripken days.